I used to live in a Hansel and Gretel cottage on the western tip of the ancient Forest of Arden where oak trees as old as Shakespeare grow. It had no road, nor any electricity, and really was in the middle of nowhere. Romantically Elysian in the summer, but incredibly hard work in the winter. Lighting candles at half past two on a gloomy afternoon was a remarkable lesson, for someone of my generation, to relearn how to live with and truly appreciate natural light. An erratic and temperamental oil-fuelled Rayburn provided heating, hot water and limited cooking facilities. Gardening was my passion, stemmed from my father and grandparents (and continued by my brother with his landscape garden business Land Designs), and very soon I had a harvest of wonderful runner beans, peas, courgettes and beetroot, and trees laden with damsons and greengages. But, with no electricity, I had no freezer, let alone a fridge, and suddenly I was in danger of my entire crop – and all my hard work – completely perishing. I suddenly had to teach myself very quickly how to preserve this bounty and prevent it from going to waste. Armed with a recipe book given to me by my grandfather (the covers of which are still laced with molten candle-wax), a hotline to my mother and sister (both brilliant cooks), two big saucepans (one to make the preserves in and one to sterilise my jars) and a reluctant Rayburn that didn’t always get me to a rolling boil, I worked late into each night, chopping, stirring and transforming fruit and vegetables into mouthwatering concoctions. And it was satisfying entertainment – no electricity also meant no television, and candlelight is too soft to read by for any length of time without hurting your eyes. Preserve making quickly became a complete addiction, gratifying solace and true adventure. By Christmas time, I had made enough jams, chutneys and jellies to create Christmas hampers for all my family and friends, and in the following year, much to my surprise, the first marmalade I made - Quince Marmalade - won first prize in an agricultural competition.
I have since moved to the Welsh Marches where great boulders that predate Stonehenge lie, the borders long fought over by Anglo-Saxon kings; you can still sense watchmen keeping vigil on the castle mound as twilight falls. Standing guard is a quadrant of churches: defence against the last dragon in Wales whose home is here in the Radnor Forest. This is a place steeped in and unscathed by time. Come morning, as I pick elderflowers or blackberries from the hedgerows, the red kite as my sentinel, I love watching the light changing on the hills as the clouds pass over the sun. It is a truly inspiring landscape, one that nurtures the soul, makes your heart sing and lets you think that anything is possible.
Preserve making is alchemy, a time-honoured tradition of capturing time and catching seasons. The transformation of such raw ingredients into incredibly precious jewels gives you a real sense of wonder.
I have electricity – and therefore a freezer - now, but the urge to preserve didn’t dissipate, and the demand from friends and their friends increased to such an extent that I started to sell at Farmers’ Markets. Radnor Preserves was born and within its first six months of trading was shortlisted to the final three of the Powys Business Awards 2010 for excellence in Food Manufacture. Three years later, early 2013 brought further acclaim at the World Marmalade Awards and the honour of being selected by Fortnum & Mason to be one of only five non-Fortnum marmalades to be sold at their beautiful emporium in Piccadilly.
Following a move to a food-grade kitchen unit in the Heart of Wales in 2015, the company has gone from strength to strength. Radnor Preserves won Double Gold at the World Marmalade Awards for its savoury Smoky Campfire Marmalade, the highest prize in the world of marmalade, with a return listing at Fortnum & Mason. Selfridges then selected Radnor Preserves for its Meet the Maker campaign introducing undiscovered artisan food producers across the British Isles to its discerning foodie customers. Bentley Motors chose our products to help launch their new Bentley at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and the Tate Gallery now serves Radnor Preserves on their menu.